The GM firms present themselves as operating out of futuristic laboratories and hi-tech greenhouses in order to provide farmers with innovative crops with valuable new traits. But in reality, all the leading GM firms developed out of the chemical industry and they remain the world's biggest manufacturers of agrochemicals. The leading GM corporations together control nearly 75% of the global pesticide market.
Syngenta, for instance, is not only the world's third largest seed company, it's also the world's second largest agrochemical manufacturer. Monsanto, the world's biggest seed company, is the world's fifth largest agrochemical company. That is why around 80% of GM seeds have been engineered to be resistant to weed killers (herbicides). Monsantoâ€™s main GM product is crops resistant to glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup), creating a near-monopoly for Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, which is now off patent.
Having operated for many decades as major chemical corporations, and in the last 20 years additionally as biotechnology companies, the leading GM firms have a significant historical legacy. This makes it possible to examine their records when it comes to issues of public and employee safety and protection, regulatory compliance, customer care, etc.
This is particularly relevant to the regulation of GM crops, as it is almost entirely dependent on trust, with regulators normally basing their assessments of environmental risk and food safety on data from unpublished studies provided to them in confidence by the GM firms that developed the crop.
Below we look at the corporate character and record to date of the major GM firms.